Sex and International Tribunals: The Erasure of Gender from the War Narrative

sex and intl tribunalsThe gendered dimensions of violence are evident in the case law of both the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and the Sierra Leone Special Court and in the final report of the Sierra Leone Truth Commission. Crimes such as sexual slavery as a crime against humanity, and rape as a form of genocide are adjudicated upon. My book Sex and International Tribunals does not claim otherwise. Rather, it asks the reader to interrogate the process of international justice for its prejudices and patriarchal culture which lead to an essentialized yet increasingly iconic image of the (brown) woman as a raped woman. The book also posits that sustaining this iconic image necessarily conjures up the menacing specter of a militarized African masculinity.

Writers like Dubravka Zarkov, Alcinda Honwana, Christopher Taylor, Mats Utas and Carolyn Nordstorm have made significant contributions to our understanding of gender and its impact on the nature of political violence in Africa and beyond. Sex and International Tribunals argues that in comparison, legal scholars are wont to deny any gendered complexity in the war narrative. The term ‘gender justice’ has come to signify the fiction that (i) gender and feminist theories have been mainstreamed into the legal construction of war crimes and (ii) women victims have been ‘given a voice’ by the tribunals.

Sex and International Tribunals critiques reductionism by addressing the outcomes for women, when they are excluded, as well as included, into the war narrative: Thus, when  a woman testifies in court she is required to present a narrative of violence that is sex-based and not gender-based. For example, the girl soldier is rarely called as a witness in the prosecution of the war crime of child conscription. Boy victim-witnesses are regarded by prosecutors as the genuine child soldiers, whilst girls were merely concubines, camp followers, rebel wives, prostitutes, sex slaves, bush brides, etc. The girl soldier testifies chiefly about conjugal or coital harms, i.e. sex-based narrative. How many men raped her and in what sexual positions? This limited scope of her testimony cannot expand the gender analysis of child enlistment and conscription. It only elaborates on the expanding category of the sexual depravities of armed combatants.

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